Like most Americans I am proud to share a family tree with men and women who have answered, and continue to answer, the call of duty. Happily most returned home intact, to live out their lives and create new branches on that tree. The one exception was a young man named Frank Stebner.
Frank was my grandmother's first cousin, a civilian newlywed when Pearl Harbor was attacked. It prompted him to enlist in the US Navy. Here he is visiting home in 1942; standing on the running board is his younger brother Bill. I can't say if the suitcase means he was just getting there or just about to leave.
Frank Stebner would later be killed in combat lost at sea. I really don't know the circumstances of his death, but the Iowa roster of WW2 Navy dead lists him adjacent to the Sullivan brothers. His sole surviving sibling, Uncle Bill, would himself join the Army Air Corps and serve in Europe. When he returned home in 1946 he posed for this farm snapshot with his parents, Aunt Lib and Uncle Billy, and his grandmother Martha, my great-great grandmother.
I imagine Frank was much on the mind of that foursome during the pose. His death left Bill an only child, and, for great-great grandma, an only grandson. As I grew up, both Uncles Billy would reminisce about Frank, and what a brave and fine man he was. 30 years later it was still too painful a topic for Aunt Lib. The feeling of absence they shared here must have been tremendous.
When I discovered these photos in an old cigar box at my parent's house a few weeks ago it occurred to me that the first one is likely the only surviving snapshot of Frank Stebner. Although I never knew him, it also occurred that I am one of the few heirs to those first-hand memories about him. On this day, I'd like to share that inheritance.
God Bless you, Francis Robert Stebner, Machinist Mate 1st Class -- and all who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
UPDATE 6/1/10: An investigation via Google shed some light on Uncle Frank's death. He was a crewman on the destroyer USS Ingraham (DD-444) whose job was escorting Europe-bound supply ships in the Atlantic. On August 22, 1942 -- just a few months after that family picture was taken -- it collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Nova Scotia in heavy fog, causing its depth charges to explode. The Ingraham rapidly sank, and of 222 crewmen only 11 survived. The ship was struck from the Navy list on September 11, 1942. If you are in New York, you can see Frank Stebner's name engraved in the Navy memorial in Battery Park.
A 1942 photo of the Ingraham and her crew from the Navy archives: